ALICE WALKER by Maria Lauret


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An engrossing analysis of the novels and other works of Alice Walker that unearths intricate relationships and challenging premises. Controversial because of her politics, her race, her feminism, and even her literary style, Walker nevertheless remains a popular and respected writer. Lauret (American Studies/Univ. of Sussex; Liberating Literature: Feminist Fiction in America, not reviewed) shows why, as she probes the roots and layers of Meridian, The Color Purple, The Temple of My Familiar, and other novels. As Lauret points out, Walker herself has noted the influence of earlier black women authors, especially Zora Neale Hurston, and of blues singers like Bessie Smith, integral to the character of Shug in The Color Purple. But here is also a case for Virginia Woolf and Walker as “remarkably similar writers,” versatile and prolific, one pushing the boundaries of gender and the other of race (and gender as well). Also influential on Walker’s thinking, especially in later works, is Carl Jung, who even appears as a character in Possessing the Secret of Joy, her much criticized attack on genital mutilation. In probing for undercurrents in Joy and other novels, Lauret examines the authenticity of a spirit world, the power of the vernacular (disturbing alike to many black and white readers of The Color Purple), and the format of Purple (exchanges of letters between sisters) as a form of “signifying on” or turning around the formal epistolary novel of the 18th century, and asks whether Walker’s self- described role as mother to “tons of daughters” is a sign of megalomania or utopian paganism. Given the increasingly mystical bent of Walker’s later work (In the Light of My Father’s Smile), Laurent concludes by wondering where her subject will—where she can—go next. The best kind of literary criticism: Not blind to Walker’s flaws as a writer and a thinker, Lauret still finds richness and depth in her writing that will send readers back to the novels.

Pub Date: Jan. 17th, 2000
ISBN: 0-312-22431-1
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1999